Owned by St. John Frizell, a former Pegu Club bartender, the café-bar’s focus is clearly on its ambitious classic cocktails, such as the Cloister- a punchy, vintage-inspired combination of gin, grapefruit, lemon and chartreuse- and the extra fizzy house-made seltzer, which is touted as the “Best in Brooklyn.”
When I discovered that the establishment also offers a small brunch/lunch (and now dinner) menu that includes a few authentic Southern staples, namely a New Orleans-inspired muffuletta sandwich, my heart skipped a beat and my palate perked up.
A taste of the Big Easy in Brooklyn? Sounds too good to be true.
My love affair with the city of New Orleans, and its amazing cuisine, began years ago during a spontaneous spring break road trip in college. A friend and I hit the open road without an itinerary, barely $100 between us. A few days later, we were in the city’s French Quarter sharing a muffuletta from the legendary Central Grocery, which has been serving them up for over 100 years, and I was in heaven.
The traditional muffuletta is a behemoth of a sandwich that typically includes layers of ham, salami, capicola and mortadella with emmental and provolone cheeses, and a zesty, spicy olive salad served on a dense and chewy circular loaf of Sicilian bread the size of a frisbee. It’s a sloppy, delicious treat that I continue to crave all these years later and rarely get the opportunity to indulge.
It has, as they say, been imitated by many but never duplicated.
Word is, the chef at Fort Defiance is such a big fan that he set out to do just that and reportedly even made special trips to bring the sandwich back for the kitchen staff to sample. I was impressed and intrigued. So, with high hopes and hunger pains, I embarked on quest for the buzz-worthy muffuletta at Fort Defiance.
Aesthetically, Fort Defiance is everything you want it to be: vibrant, unpretentious and cozy. From the bright blue exterior to the mismatched artwork, colorful oilcloth table linens, kitschy chic chandeliers to the chalkboard soda fountain menu offering ginger-ade and egg cream, everything is effortlessly attractive. Still, Fort Defiance doesn’t consider itself a full-fledged restaurant, and it shows.
In short, my muffuletta mission went bust. I was stunned and incredibly disappointed upon hearing that the kitchen was “out” of the sandwich at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. “We ran out of the bread,” I was told by the flighty, overwhelmed waitress. They were also out of nearly half of the limited brunch menu, including the steak and eggs and bloody marys.
Although I considered sampling the Red Beans on Toast, I consoled myself with a tasty Catfish Po’ Boy ($9), which was topped with a yummy tangy slaw and, for good measure, the outrageously decadent egg sandwich with emmental cheese and north country bacon on a fluffy roll. Both were satisfying but nothing to write home about. Most impressive was the robust Counter Culture coffee, each cup ($2) individually brewed to order via a special coffee drip rack.
Checking out Fort Defiance was a fun, funky adventure, but next time I’ll probably save my visit for the evening hours and stick with what they do best: cocktails. In the meantime, the elusive muffuletta will continue to tease my taste buds. Perhaps another road trip is in order.
365 Van Brunt Street | (347) 453-6672 | fortdefiancebrooklyn.com